Federal judge demands state judge appear over FLDS battle
A federal judge threatened Thursday to send marshals to drag a state judge into his courtroom over an order she issued that conflicted with his.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson ordered 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg to appear in his courtroom Friday to explain her decision asking the administrator of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' property trust not to comply with a federal order giving the polygamous sect temporary control of the trust. When Lindberg's attorney, Brent Johnson, informed Benson she would not be able to appear because she was attending her uncle's funeral in Arizona, he threatened to order federal marshals to bring her before him, according to court documents.
Marshals were not dispatched, and the Friday hearing has been rescheduled for noon on Monday.
Utah took over the FLDS trust six years ago amid allegations of mismanagement, but Benson ruled in February the takeover was illegal.
Johnson earlier had filed a motion to put the federal case on hold until legal issues surrounding the trust are resolved, and he added another filing Thursday asking a the 10th U.S. Circuit Court Appeal to decide whether to put the case on hold.
"Only through this court's immediate action can this extremely difficult and pressing situation between the courts of two sovereigns be de-escalated, and time given for appropriate review of the issues on appeal," Johnson wrote Thursday.
The panel of judges Thursday requested a detailed response from the FLDS Church to the request for holding the case until the trust issue is clarified by Monday at 5 p.m. However, the judges said they still may put a temporary or permanent hold on the case before they receive the church's response.
The FLDS Church did file Thursday a brief response in opposition to the motion to hold the case.
Benson's decision last week to temporarily give back control of the communal property trust to the FLDS Church would be the first time in six years that the Warren S. Jeffs-led sect would run the $110 million trust that holds most members' homes, businesses and land in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., as well as those in a Canadian settlement.
Lindberg has told the federal court that returning the trust's control back to the FLDS Church would "cause irreparable harm to those who, directly or indirectly, have relied on the decisions of the state court over the nearly six years that Judge Lindberg has overseen the trust at issue."
The conflict between the state and federal judges has left the state court-appointed fiduciary for the trust, Bruce Wisan, in a difficult position.
Wisan's attorney, Jeffrey L. Shields, said that Wisan has not complied with Benson's orders because of the conflicting orders from the state level. Wisan has not turned over the trust to FLDS control because it's unclear who would be in charge of the trust as Jeffs and William E. Jessop are both vying for control of the church, and "we don't trust that Warren Jeffs or the president of the corporation are going to do the right thing" with the trust.
In his 30 years of practicing law, Shields said he has never seen a federal and state judge issue conflicting orders.
"I have trust in the judicial system. This is historic, but I still believe in the rule of law and that it will get us to a just result," he said. "I just don't know when or how."